'People's Educator' Makes Teaching Lifelong Mission

ByXie Lin October 30, 2021
'People's Educator' Makes Teaching Lifelong Mission
Yu Yi answers questions for students. [Xinhua/Liuying]


Yu Yi, Honorary President of Shanghai Yangpu Senior High School, was among the first generation of Chinese-language teachers in the country after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949. Yu, recipient of the 2019 People's Educator award, has spent more than six decades teaching the Chinese language. While adhering to her philosophy on teaching, she has made outstanding contributions during the reform and development of basic education across the country. She has received several honorary titles, including National March 8th Red-Banner Holder, National Advanced Worker and Most Beautiful Striver.

'I Will Be a Teacher for the Rest of My Life'

Yu was born in 1929, not long before the Japanese military invaded China. Her road to education was very difficult; during the war, Yu studied in many schools before she was admitted to Zhengjiang High School, in East China's Jiangsu Province.

In 1947, then-18-year-old Yu was admitted to the Department of Education of Fudan University, in Shanghai. In 1951, as she was about to assume a teaching position, Yu decided to tie her personal future — and destiny — to both the Party (Communist Party of China) and the motherland.

"As I recall my studying experience, I was really lucky. So, since I became a teacher, I have been working with gratitude," says Yu.

Since she became a Chinese-language teacher, Yu has been thinking about how to teach every class well. Rather than follow the traditional teaching method, in which teachers keep speaking while students just listen and offer minimal input, Yu used a different — more interactive — teaching method.

Yu led her students during visits to Shanghai Longhua Martyrs Cemetery, and she had her students read revolutionary literary classics, which put the "red gene" in their blood and, in turn, helped them form new ideals.

In her view, Chinese-language class not only teaches children to understand and use the language, it also enriches their spiritual lives and shapes their souls.

Yu believes teaching Chinese should "integrate morality and intelligence;" that is, to truly implement the educational concept of training talents, so they develop high moral standards. This idea has since been recognized by the nation's education community.

"My lifelong dream is to be a 'qualified' teacher. This 'qualification' cannot be quantified, but is measured by the requirements of the country, and the trust of the people," says Yu.

For decades, Yu has devoted herself to her work — with great enthusiasm and a strong sense of mission. She has also written many books on teaching.

"I have said I will be a teacher for the rest of my life, and I will also learn to be a teacher for the rest of my life, which is by no means empty talk. I have been learning all my life, constantly improving and perfecting my personality. I keep reflecting on how many of the lessons I have given … are just on the blackboard, and how many are really taught to students," Yu says.

"I am constantly denying myself, reforming myself, and surpassing myself. I try to integrate my life into the great socialist education cause, with my life promise to teach and educate people, not just simply to be a teacher," adds Yu.

Yu teaches her students that Chinese is one of the most beautiful languages in the world. Their love for the Chinese language, and their thirst for cultural knowledge, are born from this.

Pluck the Unique String in Every Child's Heart

"My mother told me people should be kind, and hardworking. She said it's not a big deal to suffer a little bit by yourself, as long as you can help others. Her words have influenced my life," says Yu.

During visits to some students' homes, especially those from poverty-stricken families, Yu cried when she saw their real-life difficulties. She has often used her own money to help impoverished students buy daily necessities and school supplies. She has also tried her best to help students solve the various problems they faced at home.

"Whatever happens to students affects teachers. Students are our 'children'," Yu explains.

Vasyl Sukhomlynsky (1918-1970), a humanistic educator in the former Soviet Union, reportedly said, "In the most secret corner of every child's heart, there is a unique string, which will make a unique sound when you pluck it. So, the child's heart will resonate with what I say, I myself need to align the tone with the child's heartstrings."

Yu has adopted that philosophy. "I have been in class for a whole lifetime, and I truly realize the lives and the value of teachers are reflected in the training of their students. After 10, 20, and even 30 years, my students will become people who can make contributions to the motherland. This is the value of my life," says Yu.

She does not believe teachers simply teach; rather, they sow the seeds of how to be a good person. She says a teacher should pass on to students a deep affection for the Party, the motherland, and the people.

Yu compiled a book — I Love You, China — and presented it to the students of Shanghai Yangpu Senior High School. "We must let our children know where their roots are, and where they are going. What we want to cultivate is a modern, civilized person with a 'Chinese heart.' The root of our national spirit, and the soul of patriotism, should be sown in the hearts of children," Yu says.

'Be a Paving Stone'

"I joined the Party on August 13, 1965," Yu recalls. During her more than 60 years as a teacher, Yu has served as a subject teacher, head teacher, grade leader, and principal. No matter what position she has held, Yu has constantly pushed herself to learn more.

Yu believes, especially as a Party member, she should be a pioneer in any post, and she should fulfill her teaching duties to the best of her ability.

In 1986, Shanghai established the country's first teacher studies research association. Yu served as its first chairperson.

"We want Chinese teachers to have their own philosophy," she says.

Since the founding of the People's Republic of China, and especially since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (held in 2012), the country's education has seen unprecedented progress.

From preschool to compulsory education, from high school to higher and postgraduate education, and from big cities to the countryside, educators have cultivated hundreds of millions of talented individuals — on all fronts — in China.

Yu believes, with advanced educational concepts and brilliant educational achievements, teachers should always be boosting their confidence, even as they recognize their shortcomings.

Yu retired in 2002. Although she has stepped out from behind the podium, she still cares about education.

Since 2006, she has served as host of a training base, for outstanding Chinese teachers, established by the Shanghai Municipal Education Commission. She has also devoted herself to advancing the comprehensive reform of education in China.

Being a teacher has been Yu's lifelong pursuit. "I am willing to be a paving stone, to let the young teachers 'step over' and move forward," she has said.

"The teacher is engaged in shaping the lives of students. One shoulder undertakes the students' today, while the other shoulders the future of the country. When I associate my life with the destiny of the country, and the happiness of the people, I feel that I will always be powerful and young," Yu says.

In 2021, as a former principal, Yu returned to Shanghai Yangpu Senior High School, and she participated in a special dialogue with students.

"Now that the post-2000s generation has grown up in such a powerful country, which has been created by generations of people who have inherited the spirit of hard work from revolutionary martyrs and predecessors, and who are diligent, thrifty, and conscientious in their posts, students should not forget from where a happy life comes," Yu told the students.

Through more than five decades as a Party member, and more than 60 years as a teacher, Yu expressed her deep love for the Party, the country and the people by sticking to her post. She is a well-deserved "People's Educator."

After having taught nearly 2,000 open classes, trained three generations of special-grade teachers, and written millions of words in books, Yu, now in her 90s, still stands at the forefront of education reform and teacher training in China. More impressive is the fact she still lives by the oath, "Let life go with the mission."


(Women of China English Monthly September 2021 issue)


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